For two weeks in March, 24 scientists representing laboratories in 21 countries learned state-of-the-art methods for precise and quick assessment of radionuclides in the environment. The venue was a training course on rapid assessment methods for environmental radioactivity, held between 10 and 21 March 2014 at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) in the US. It was organized by the Environment Laboratories Division in the IAEA Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications in cooperation with the ANL to particularly benefit scientists working in laboratories belonging to the ALMERA network.
ALMERA is the acronym for Analytical Laboratories for the Measurement of Environmental Radioactivity, a world-wide network of analytical laboratories capable of providing reliable and timely determination of radionuclides in samples used for both routine and emergency environmental monitoring.
"The ALMERA network is a valuable resource for the IAEA for ensuring reliable and timely determination of radionuclides in the environment," said Mr. David Osborn, Director of the IAEA Environment Laboratories. "Such a training course is important to reinforce the analytical skills of the personnel in the ALMERA laboratories interested in developing their rapid response capabilities so as to be better prepared in case that any radiological emergency would be occurring."
During the training course, participants attended lectures and practical exercises, and participated in field work and laboratory hands-on practical work. Lectures focused on specific applications of dose assessment codes and analysis of complex gamma-ray spectra of environmental samples, and were followed by practical exercises on real cases. Participants practised field detection methods and sampling methodology in case of environmental contamination. A laboratory hands-on practical exercise relevant to the rapid determination of radionuclides in the environment was organized. The participants practised a rapid radiochemical laboratory procedure validated by ALMERA laboratories and published by the IAEA. Special attention was also given to quality aspects of sampling and analytical work during the training course.
"Over the years, the IAEA Environment Laboratories have developed robust analytical procedures for the determination of radionuclides in the environment," Mr. Osborn explained.
Detailed analytical procedures are published by the IAEA and made available to Member States' laboratories. However, practical laboratory training on these methods has been non-existent.
"This type of training is required to help Member States establish these methods in their own laboratories," Mr. Osborn pointed out. "With training courses such as the one hosted by ANL, we are now filling in this gap and hence building up additional rapid response analytical capabilities in our Member States. I wish to express my appreciation to the Argonne National Laboratory for hosting the training course and to the US State Department for the financial support provided to participants."
The training course included a half-day technical visit to selected facilities of the Argonne National Laboratory, an opportunity for the participants to learn about various nuclear applications.
It successfully addressed the needs of ALMERA network laboratories interested in enhancing their rapid analytical capabilities. This supports quality in the assessment of environmental contamination in emergency situations and resulted in the dissemination of rapid methods and harmonisation amongst ALMERA laboratories. This first training course on rapid assessment methods was attended by personnel from ALMERA laboratories in Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Republic of Korea, Lithuania, Portugal, Serbia, Thailand, Tunisia and Zambia. In 2015 it is planned that this course will be repeated for the benefit of further ALMERA member laboratories.
The ALMERA network currently consists of 140 laboratories in 82 Member States and is coordinated by the IAEA Environment Laboratories. The main network activities are related to the organization of proficiency tests and inter-laboratory comparison exercises, the development and validation of analytical procedures for the measurement of environmental radioactivity, and the organization of training courses and workshops. The goals of participation in the network activities are the demonstration of the technical competence of the ALMERA laboratories, the wider application of recommended validated methods and methodological harmonization leading to enhanced world-wide comparability of environmental radioactivity measurement results, and the development of analytical capabilities of the personnel.
Further information on the ALMERA network is available on the IAEA ALMERA website.